Monday, 27 July 2015

Brats (1930)

A great example of Laurel and Hardy at the height of their powers, Brats takes a single idea, some slapstick, destruction, word play and mixes the lot into some great laugh aloud moments. The film also has some interesting symbolism relating to both the characters and to how parents see their children, as the juniors are literally small versions of the seniors.

Being a short film there is not much in the way of plot, simply a premise. Stan and Olly have been left in charge of their respective sons for the evening, sons that look exactly like miniature versions of their fathers and have a similarly antagonistic relationship. All the grownups have to do is keep the little ones out of trouble - what could possibly go wrong?

The answer is, of course, plenty, but what makes Brats more than a series of gags is the insight it gives us into the relationship between Stan and Olly. In the absence of their partners, the duo form a parental duo, with Olly as the stern father figure and Stan as the more easygoing mother.

Brats is also a perfect example of Laurel and Hardy's approach to talkie comedy, taking a more deliberate and measured pace compared to the frantic style of their silent work. Many of the gags are telegraphed in advance, and the build up to the laughs comes not from an unexpected surprise but from looking at the skate at the top of the stairs, or the snooker cue in front of a glass cabinet and realising, it is just a question of when things are going to go wrong.

Fans will recognise many favourite motifs that recur throughout the duo's films, such as Olly's withering glances to camera (and plaintive cry, not for the first time of "why don't you do something to help me?"). There are also some surprisingly agile slapstick moves from Hardy, as well as Stan's surreal mangling of the English language ("You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead”).

Director James Parrot uses some cinematic tricks such oversized props and clever editing to create the illusion of the children and adults interacting. To me this shows that the films of Laurel and Hardy can be considered groundbreaking, not just for the comedy, but also for the way they, and the directors they worked with were willing to go beyond their theatrical roots and exploit the medium of cinema.